Northampton vs. Bath: Breaking Down How Northampton Won the Amlin Challenge Cup
Northampton have a piece of silverware on the sideboard. The Amlin Challenge Cup will find its final resting place at Franklin’s Gardens after a second-half comeback from the Saints, defeating Bath 30-16.
A flawless kicking display from Stephen Myler and tenacious appetite for work from the Saints forward pack blasted the West Countrymen out of the game after it looked as though they had the beating of the Premiership finalists.
Here’s how it was won.
Bath had a clearly devised plan for how to defend against Saints’ heavy artillery in the back division. When Myler called a wide move to try and put George North away on the left wing, they shuffled across softly, happy for the attack to crab toward the touchline. Then, they stepped up smartly when the ball reached the Wales wrecking ball and had two men there to hammer him into touch as soon as he had the ball.
They also knew what they had to do if the cavalry was sent down George Ford’s channel.
The Bath No. 10 was declared unavailable for England duty this summer, as he will undergo a shoulder operation after this final, so Saints sent the likes of Luther Burrell and Samu Manoa down his channel to test that damaged side out. Bath protected their playmaker, stationing the likes of Carl Fearns and Ollie Divoto in his place to deal with the hard-charging Northampton men.
The third element of their defensive plan that worked well was their commitment to swarming all over Saints players as soon as they began to hesitate in attack. It forced Anthony Watson’s opening try when Ken Pisi was turned over and was a hallmark of their first-half efforts.
Saints showed their intelligence by changing tactics in the second half to stay away from that feverish Bath rearguard, playing territory and putting the pressure back on Bath to force errors and give Myler the chance to get back into the contest.
It was a clear sign that Jim Mallinder is able to identify a problem and communicate to his players how to change their plan to overcome it.
Ford did much that was good for Bath with ball in hand, but his goal-kicking cost his side the silverware.
He missed three eminently kickable opportunities, whereas Myler was dead-eyed all evening for Northampton, amassing 20 points.
A good goal-kicker will always be able to keep his side in a game when it's struggling. A misfiring one will undo a lot of his team’s good work.
Saints chose their moment to start up the bulldozer, electing to put the ball in the corner rather than extend their lead with another three points.
And it paid handsome dividends with a try from a rolling maul after they had exerted so much pressure on the Bath eight as to force replacement Anthony Perenise into a yellow-card offence.
There was an inevitability about it all.